Different Approaches to Reading Sequels

When we finish a great novel that’s part of a series or has sequels, it’s a wonderful feeling to know there’s more to come. But how to go about it? Do we focus on those books for weeks or months on end, ignoring the work of other authors? Or do we read the next installments sporadically over a longer period of time while mixing in different writers?

There’s no right answer, of course — it’s whatever the individual reader prefers. And if the next installment hasn’t been written/published yet, obviously fiction fans will read other authors as they eagerly await a serial saga’s continuation.

The pros and cons of each approach? If one reads a series or sequels while ignoring novels by different writers, one can achieve wonderful immersion and momentum, really get to know the characters, more easily remember foreshadowing from previous books, and pick up other kinds of nuances. On the negative side, a bit of sameness can set in. And think of all the literary variety temporarily being missed!

My most memorable experience with both approaches involved J.K. Rowling’s stellar Harry Potter series. Starting in the late 1990s, I waited each year or so for the next installment. A painful wait, but there were plenty of months to read other authors. Then, several years after the seventh and last of the Potter novels was published, I went back and reread them one after another — with no non-Potter book in between. It was a terrific experience, partly for the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph.

I also consecutively read James Fenimore Cooper’s five “Leatherstocking” novels (The Last of the Mohicans, etc.). I don’t care that Mark Twain hated those books; I liked them a lot.

And of course when you have a compelling trilogy, you might as well read all three books in a row — as I did with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and its two sequels, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels, Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses and its two sequels, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. (For me, there was a gap between reading Tolkien’s trilogy and an earlier reading of The Hobbit prequel.)

Recently, it was Martin Cruz Smith’s work that had me wrestling with how to go about reading sequels. I liked his Gorky Park so much last month that I quickly borrowed the first two sequels from the library. Polar Star (claustrophobically set on a fishing ship) was almost as good, as was Red Square. But I did manage to squeeze another author’s book — Philippa Gregory’s very good historical novel Earthly Joys — between Gorky Park and Polar Star. Which made me want to read the Earthly Joys sequel Virgin Earth. 🙂 But when I visited my local library this past Friday, Virgin Earth wasn’t there, so I borrowed the five other Gorky Park sequels! (Havana Bay, Wolves Eat Dogs, Stalin’s Ghost, Three Stations, and Tatiana.)

Other times, months or even years go by before I get to the next installment. That was the case with John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and its sequel Sweet Thursday.

Or it can be a little of both approaches. For instance, I read L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and its first three sequels consecutively, and then later got back to the other sequels.

There’s also the case of reading some sequels but not all of them. I enjoyed Walter Mosley’s first two Easy Rawlins mysteries and Sue Grafton’s first four Kinsey Millhone alphabet mysteries, but not quite enough to immediately continue with more. But I might get back to them!

And how about reading a series mostly out of order? I’ve done that with Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, partly because some of the books were at my local library only some of the time.

How do you read series and sequels?

Because of some travel, I will not be posting columns March 25 and April 1. I look forward to returning with a new piece on April 8! I’ll still respond when I can to any comments under already-published columns.

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — about topics such as a mayor’s interference in the search for a schools superintendent — is here.

Sequels We’d Like to See

After you read a great stand-alone novel or finish a wonderful series of books, do you wish the story would continue?

Of course, this isn’t possible if the author is deceased (though there’s the occasional ill-advised sequel by a different writer). And many novels don’t need a continuation — they ended perfectly. Still, one can dream, and this blog post will do that before it also asks which theoretical sequels you’d like to see.

When it comes to knowing what happens to cherished characters, readers this summer will get a chance at gratification (or disappointment) with the publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman book featuring an older Scout and Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. But that’s a rare instance of wish fulfillment, so let’s return to imaginary sequels.

As some of you know, my favorite novel is Jane Eyre, and thinking of a follow-up to that book seems almost blasphemous. After all, Charlotte Bronte wrote other books after Jane Eyre‘s 1847 publication while choosing not to revisit her most famous work. But if the 1855-deceased Bronte had lived as long as her husband (Arthur Bell Nichols didn’t die until 1906), who knows what she might have done?

In a hypothetical Jane Eyre sequel by Bronte, I would love to read more details about the title character’s marriage. And if Jane’s two-decades-older husband eventually predeceased her, what would her life have been like? Remarriage? Becoming a teacher again?

Daniel and Mirah’s time in Palestine, where they were heading at the end of George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, would also be something to see.

Worth reading, too, would be a chronicle of the later lives of the three memorable siblings (good and bad) in The Brothers Karamazov. I’ve read that Fyodor Dostoyevsky, if death hadn’t intervened, planned to write two more Karamazov books to complete a trilogy.

How would adult life work out for angst-ridden teen John Grimes, the semi-autobiographical protagonist in James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On the Mountain? If John ended up having something like Baldwin’s career, that would be impressive!

If there were a sequel to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, I’d be very curious to know what happens to disillusioned “fireman” Guy Montag and the outcast band of book lovers he joined.

The last Harry Potter book concludes with an epilogue that gives readers a glimpse of Harry, Hermione, and Ron as adults. It would be great to see that fleshed out, and there’s a chance it could eventually happen. But J.K. Rowling is certainly quite busy writing her non-magical novels.

If the authors were alive to write sequels, I’d also want to know whether Ravic the surgeon of Erich Maria Remarque’s Arch of Triumph survives World War II and how Maria in Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls fares after things go south for her lover Robert Jordan during the Spanish Civil War.

And I’d be curious to know what Isabel Archer — yoked to a ghastly marriage while still young in Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady — ends up doing with her life. Isabel is smart, charismatic, and independently wealthy, yet wrestles with self-doubt and the restrictions and expectations women faced in the 19th century.

Days after I wrote the above paragraph, I reached a passage of The Master — Colm Toibin’s quietly engrossing novel about Henry James’ life — in which James’ niece Peggy asks her uncle if he intends to write a sequel to The Portrait of a Lady! Peggy is very dissatisfied with the momentous decision Isabel makes at the end of James’ 1881 classic.

Which novels would you like to see sequels to (in the case of deceased authors, theoretical sequels; in the case of living authors, sequels that are possible)? What would you like to see happen in those sequels?

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I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.